Let’s say you were going to try and chart a first-ever course through the frigid Arctic Ocean. What would you pack for the trip? Equally important, what would you not pack for the trip?
In 1845, Sir John Franklin learned the answers to both questions the hard way….
In the middle of the 19th century, world leaders on multiple continents were looking for a trade route through the Arctic Ocean known as the fabled Northwest Passage. Many thought if one could be found it would drastically reduce the time of oceanic voyages between Europe and Asia.
Stepping up to the challenge was Sir John Franklin, an honored officer from England’s Royal Navy. In 1845, he set sail with 138 officers and men from England in search of the passage. Onboard his two ships named HMS Erebus and HMS Terror was a strange list of supplies. Both vessels had a 1,200-volume library, hand organs for playing music, China sets for officers and sailors, elegant cut-glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware of ornate Victorian design engraved with the individual officers’ initials and family crests.
Not exactly “survival” gear….
Yes, both ships had an auxiliary steam engine with a 12-day supply of coal, but because the voyage was expected to take almost three years, that particular provision was rendered almost completely useless. On top of that mistake, none of the adventurers had any specialized clothing to help them combat the freezing temperatures they’d face.
When the expedition failed to return home on time, various parties went searching for the crews. At several places along the frozen landscape the search parties met local Inuit who claimed to have found the bodies of dead Englishmen here and there. Piecing together the doomed expedition’s route, search parties eventually found one of the ships stuck in the ice. Not far from there, the rescuers found a tent with 30 frozen corpses in it. The sailors had evidently decided to try to walk to safety after their ship was imprisoned by ice.
Interestingly, instead of finding survival supplies amongst the huddled bodies, they found the place settings of engraved sterling silver, handcrafted backgammon games, and lots of silverware. With their lives on the line, these sailors had carried treasures instead of supplies that would have proven much more valuable.
Not only did Franklin’s expedition fail to chart a passage, every single one of his officers and crewmen died in the effort. One has to wonder if their deaths stemmed from their inability to part with riches, comforts, and other earthly treasures.
You’ve been given a mission, too; God wants you to help find the lost. Are you properly equipped for the journey…or are you holding tightly to useless treasure?
Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters by Annie Dillard. Harper & Row, 1982. Pages 24-26.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)